Renewable energy production in the United States will grow over the next 25 years but more wind, geothermal and solar will not be enough to unseat King Coal, according to a U.S. goverment report released today. Though the report is a bit of coal in their Christmas stocking, clean energy advocates can take some solace in knowing that the projection does not take into account future game-changing policies and technology that could further boost growth of renewable energy.
The Energy Information Administration‘s 2011 Annual Energy Outlook forecasts that renewable energy generation excluding hydropower will only rise 3 percentage points to 14% of the nation’s power porfolio from 2009 to 2035 despite accounting for 23% of the growth in electricity generation overall. EIA says the gain in these greenhouse gas offseters will be due to federal tax credits and state programs such as renewable energy standards imposed on utilities.
Looking at greenhouse gas-producing generation, EIA forecasts that coal generation will drop only 2 percentage points to 43% by 2035, with a whopping total of 21 gigawatts of new generating capacity added over the next few decades. Natural gas generation, meanwhile, will grow only 2 percentage points to 25% during the same time frame due to lower wholesale prices and relatively low capital costs to build new plants.
What all these percentages boil down to is that fossil-fuel generation will continue to make up over two-thirds of America’s power generation for at least the next few decades–if EIA is right. As a result, energy-related greenhouse gas emissions by 2035 will grow around 5 percentage points from 2005 levels. EIA points out that this growth will be lower than the 21% increase in total energy use by 2035. And the American economy will become less carbon-intensive by 2035 as energy-related CO2 emissions per dollar of GDP decline by 42%.
Given the uncertainties of projecting out a quarter-century, EIA does not take big bets on the future success of clean energy. There is still the possibility that the agency could annoit a new and cleaner king of generation in the United States in 2035. Greater public and private investment in commercializing renewable technology will be critical as well as state and federal policies that put a price on carbon emissions to reflect the environmental harm caused by fossil fuels. Maybe in the years to come, Santa will be putting sprigs of green instead of coal in the stockings of clean energy advocates.